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People making a complex decision

To build or to buy—that is the question. However, answering that question is not as simple as flipping a coin. Before you’re ready to bring new software to market, you have to think about how the software development strategy aligns with your goals—or you could waste significant resources while still missing the mark.

How do you decide? Start by defining what you want to build and how it’ll be used and maintained over time.

Select the right software partner by using our checklist, “9 Things to Consider When Hiring a Software Development Company.” >>

Why are you debating build vs. buy?

If you’re getting in the weeds questioning whether you should build vs. buy software, there must be a reason for it. So start here. What do you hope to accomplish, and what are your limitations? When you identify your “why,” it’s much easier to move forward with a strategy to execute the project.

Common reasons to compare build and buy

Does a solution exist—and can you do better? Start all the way back at the heart of why you’re pursuing your project in the first place. Maybe you just want the competitive advantage of offering a superior product. After all, being best dressed at the party turns heads. But should you buy off the rack or design a custom look?

That’s where you need to think long and hard about the look, feel, and function of your solution—and what it might look like down the line. Often, companies debate between custom and out-of-the-box (OOTB) solutions because they:

  • Need options for customization.
  • Need to weigh the costs of custom vs. OOTB.
  • Question the long-term need for their solution.
  • Know their feature requirements will change or remain static.
  • Want to solve a specific need or evolve to provide new solutions.
  • Must weigh the timeline between custom vs. OOTB based on urgency.

Multiple factors may sway you in one direction over the other. The important part is that you do the work to make an informed decision.

Explore the “buy” (OOTB) option.

Does it make better sense for your business to purchase a software platform that already exists? Think about restaurant apps. For some shops, joining a third-party platform such as Uber Eats or DoorDash makes sense, while others need the flexibility, control, and customization of a unique solution. Consider both the pros and cons of buying OOTB software.

Pros of buying

If software isn’t your forte—or isn’t part of your business—you need convenient solutions. Buying OOTB software provides a cost-effective alternative when you lack the internal resources to build a custom solution.

OOTB software also gets you up and running quickly. Have a tight completion deadline? OOTB options deliver a quick turnaround when customization is less important. Because they’re ready to use, existing solutions can address your business challenges now and continue to work long term without development hiccups or hands-on maintenance requirements.

Cons of buying

A downside of buying OOTB software is that it’s not made precisely for your needs or industry. Instead, it serves a broader range of users. In fact, there’s no guarantee that the solution is unique because competitors might white label the same solution.

OOTB software isn’t made to accommodate robust customization. If you opt to buy software, you could need additional à la carte solutions to fill in gaps to handle what it doesn’t. That’s expensive in the long term and frustrating for users who want to do everything in one place. Also, you’ll need to rely on the vendor to deploy updates, fix bugs, and confirm requests for customization.

Explore the “build” (custom) option.

Think custom software could fit the bill? It’s true that something 100 percent unique to your brand—similar to your website—can be and do exactly what you want it to. But is this the right strategy for your needs? Building your own software comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of building

When you build vs. buy software that already exists, you’re in the driver’s seat. Need your solution to have specific capabilities? You have the freedom to build specific requirements because you’re starting from scratch.

Custom software development is liberating because you don’t run into as many frustrating limitations as you would with OOTB solutions. You control maintenance activities that allow you to scale and release upgrades instead of relying on vendor support. You even open opportunities to sell your software later because you own the rights to your code.

Cons of building

The challenge is that if you need something quick and cheap, custom isn’t the way to go. Custom software development is usually more expensive than OOTB, which adds up more if you don’t approach it the right way. In fact, one-sixth of IT projects overrun their budgets by 200 percent, according to one widely cited study, because companies don’t do the legwork, failing to account for discovery, designing, building, testing, implementation, and long-term support.

Scratch-built applications require a heavier lift. They need more extensive development, taking longer to deploy because they’re created for a highly specific use case. Having a niche purpose and particular requirements also means there’s a higher risk for things to go wrong, so a developer needs to be available to make all updates.

You need to take the good and the bad because as tantalizing as it seems, not all companies actually need a custom solution.

Choose the best software development strategy for your business.

Where do you land on the build vs. buy software debate? While building from scratch gives you more flexibility, it might be unrealistic to do internally. And buying OOTB software gets you up and running in a flash but with functionality and control limitations. So, what if you could have it all without any extra headaches?

Outsourcing your software development to an expert team such as Detroit Labs strikes the perfect balance. Using a time-tested approach and consistent collaboration, we research solutions based on your needs, provide user-friendly designs, and build best-in-class digital products. Get in touch to find out how our team can help, and keep your eyes on the Detroit Labs blog for more ways the right software can help you.

Curious about what to consider when hiring a software development company? Check out the guide.  

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